Rome and SSPX: state of play
Leaks and dissension
The confidential letters exchanged between the SSPX bishops were leaked to the Internet in May. This month saw huge turmoil in the Society, with furious denunciations of any possible accord coming from many priests and local superiors, balanced by defences of the policy of Bishop Fellay coming from other office holders.
Bishop Fellay acknowledged the real possibility of a split in the society but held to his course. On May 9th, Bishop Fellay visited Mgr. Pozzo and demanded the right to continue to criticise errors and scandals, in the case of a canonical regularisation. The discussion is reported in a leaked SSPX document (the letter of Fr. Thouvenot of July 18th referred to below) to have broken down on the question of criticism of the goodness of the Mass of Paul VI and hence of the legitimacy of celebrating that rite. On May 16th the CDF held its ordinary session to discuss the question of the SSPX and Bishop Fellay’s document.
On June 13th Cardinal Levada received Bishop Fellay and his first assistant, Fr. Pfluger, and delivered the response of the congregation to Bishop Fellay’s submission of April 15th. A private communication of Fr. Christian Thouvenot to SSPX superiors, written on June 25th and leaked to the internet on the same day, stated that the CDF had revised Bishop Fellay’s text so as to make it substantially conform to the text presented by the CDF on September 14th 2011, and that it was clearly unacceptable.
A further confidential letter of Fr. Thouvenot, written on July 18th and leaked to the internet on July 20th, added the information that Bishop Fellay had immediately refused the proposed CDF document, and that the document had suppressed the SSPX’s reference to the anti-modernist oath.
SSPX rallies to Fellay
The SSPX held a general chapter in Ecône in Switzerland from July 9th to July 14th to consider the Roman proposals. The chapter voted to confirm Bishop Williamson’s suspension from capitulary office and voted its support of Bishop Fellay by a very large majority. It endorsed his rejection of the Roman proposals of June 13th. The chapter defined necessary and desirable conditions for an eventual agreement with Rome. The necessary conditions were freedom to preserve the entire traditional of the Church, and to forbid and denounce, even publicly, the errors of modernism, liberalism, and the Second Vatican Council: exclusive use of the missal of 1962 and the current sacramental practice of the Society: and the guarantee of at least one bishop. The desirable conditions were ecclesiastical tribunals of the first instance proper to the Society, exemption of houses of the Society from the authority of diocesan bishops, and a Pontifical Council for Tradition in Rome directly dependent on the Pope, with a majority of members being traditionalists.
This is where we are at the moment.
The most interesting question in this story concerns the relation of the Pope to the apparent double crossing of Bishop Fellay on June 13th. The bottom line is that Fellay appears to have received assurances, from the top, about an agreement that, in the end, were not kept. There seems to be no other way of explaining Bishop Fellay’s behaviour – his going against the Society’s policy of refusing a practical agreement, which was his own policy expressed on many occasions, and his consequent risking of a split within the Society. It also seems inconceivable that, if such assurances had been made, the Pope was unaware that the CDF had not delivered on them. Whether he willed it or simply consented to it, and whether he will simply let it pass or try to do something to repair it, will emerge in the future.
Given the way that the CDF has pulled the rug from under Fellay’s feet, and confirmed the distrust already widespread in the SSPX, it is difficult to see how Pope Benedict can salvage the project that he claimed to be at the heart of his pontificate.